Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stop thinking "Structure" is the answer!


I see this pattern so often: a company is not delivering the expected results. And boom - management decides to change the structure. New departments, people moving. Networks lost.
Some say "In what re-organization are you working"?

My believe: it's NOT about structure. It's about people, network, patterns of interaction and trust, and, of course, processes.

And the sad thing is: with every structural reorganization, most attention and energy is spend on structure. And, with most "change capital" spent, people struggle to build up new network, patterns and processes (usually outside the sponsorship of management...) to deliver the same results (and in the beginning less) as a before.

Management, please: it's people, supported by their netwerk, interactions, trust and processes that deliver results. Structure is not the main thing, that's about power, and not about results...

Journey to the essence of BPM - part 1

The last months I have been thinking a lot about BPM, trying to understand what's really the point. It started with doubts on the tangible benefits, but also on the true nature of BPM. What is it really? Still seeing a lot of definitions and notions around on BPM, I wanted to dive deeper and find some true meaning that really resonates, instead of the many "fluffy blabla" definitions.

First I want to share my thoughts about the concept of "process". Here I already see confusing notions and assumptions.

The common definitions of "process" typically resolves into something like "linked activities, reaching a certain goal, having inputs, outputs, people and machines performing them, adding some value to a customer, certain business rules that apply, etc etc".
The thing is: I have never touched a process. Never held one. And things not being physical means abstraction.

Let's get back to process. What is really?

Let's first agree a process is not a process-model. As the belgium painter Magritte stated "C'est ne pas un pipe": the drawing of a pipe is not the same as the real thing.

The only real thing I can think of is human (and systems) behavior. When one or more people and/or machines show certain behavioral patterns repeatedly, you might call that a process.

That already establishes a foundation for BPM. It's people (and machines), and their behavior.

What governs that behavior? What makes that we call certain behavior a process? Some explorations:

If a group of people has "behavioral" responsibilities in a certain area, I also could ask them "how they deliver certain results". Although differences will exist, they are probably able to recall their activities and can also tell me how they will behave the next time a certain result is expected. In that sense, "process" has a memory-construct, that will enable people to remember what to do.

In situations where people need to reach results, that require them to collaborate, people tend to communicate, negotiate and agree on required behavior (if you do.... then I will.....). In that sense, "process" is also about "social contracts".
A short side-step: I recently moved to a new apartment, and the movers showed a fascinating efficiency. The group of men clearly had worked many times together, and where really a team. Without much spoken communication, they rapidly worked together. And while watching them close, I could see various patterns and tacit communication. The "social contract" had been developed over a longer period of time, and was still evolving, improving, quickly reacting to new circumstances. When teams are really performing, process as a social construct does not seem to require "BPM sessions".

Am I getting closer to something that resonates as a true "process" concept?
- It's actual behavior of specific people and machines (without action, no process)
- It's about repetitive behavior of these people (only done once - no process)
- It's about knowledge and social contract (these people and machines are governed, and have, with more of less consent, agreed to/and know certain "playing rules")
- It's (sometimes!) about improvement and adaption (that might be done tacitly), when there is true "teamwork"

People behavior people behavior......sometimes is trying to tell me something, but I'm not there yet.
What I do know is that the traditional definitions of BPM are far from "specific people". It talks about process and maybe of people that are "resources" pushed as little pegs into RACI's. That does not feel right and also severely limits us in our BPM approach.

My gut feeling: BPM is about social interventions.
But more about this in the next parts of my journey!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lean - can we also add value?

Busy with a training on Lean. Interesting stuff, with powerful process improvement concepts and techniques.

One of the central concepts is value added. When analysing a process (or in Lean terms: value stream), one can find activities that do not add value to the customer. Basic question to find them: ask for each activity "is the customer willing to pay for this"?

To really be able to answer this question, one needs to understand how the customer views value: what is valuable for the customer, what does he/she expect - as a base, as extra value, etc. In Six Sigma terms "The voice of the customer".

This approach is strong, but has one risk: it might lead to a very reductionist view on process improvement: to (mainly) remove activities.
Great for lead time improvement and cost cutting. However....

What if, from a competitive perspective, there is a way to delight customers even better, by adding activities?? "Toolhead" lean will likely ignore this possibility....

- The small gift my daughter got when she received an injection
- The extra time my dentist spends to explain the procedure and relax me
- The bicycle (hey, this is Holland :-)) the cardealer provides me for free, when my car is being serviced

These are the things that make me come back. Any examples you have?

This is the area of the strategy - process alignment: if you want to be special as a company, don't just remove waiste. Add extra value.

(Dutch) article published on Trends in BPM

At the end of 2009, a number of colleagues and I published a (small) book on current trends in BPM (which is available in English in book and PDF-form, on request).

As an update, we recently published a Dutch article in the dutch BPM magazine, with 3 trend-updates. A version of this article can be accessed here:

Feedback welcome!